OPINION: Befriending your Ex

Exes Zakk and John. Photo | DARREN KNIGHT.
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How to pivot from a relationship to a friendship. Fresh off appearing on TVNZ’s The Ex Best Thing, Zakk d’Larte shares his top tips for creating a genuine friendship with your ex.

Ah, the ol’ ex.

Like many others that have had relationships end, there have been times when I’ve felt like I’ve been stripped away from both my partner and my best friend.

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However, I also recognise that I am in a lucky position of being able to also call one of my exes one of my closest mates.

When I was initially approached to be in TVNZ’s new reality dating show, The Ex Best Thing, my initial thought was ‘absolutely not!’

We hadn’t sat down and spoken in over four years, why would I want that experience televised? And then, came around to the idea when I repurposed the experience in my mind to be an opportunity to laugh and reconnect with my former flame.

We had such an ideal break-up — he moved miles away, and then eventually to the UK and I never saw him, unlike with other separations where I see them every weekend at the club or parties.

We had remained on speaking terms and still contacted each other via social media, but I wondered what being together face-to-face would feel like and whether that spark still existed between us.

I believe that yes, it’s absolutely possible to be friends with your ex–romantic partner, great friends in fact. Whether it’s a good idea or not, however, can depend on the situation and those involved.

Some people are able to have healthy, positive relationships with their exes without any difficulty or complications, whereas I’ve also witnessed others who have tried to remain friends end up becoming unnecessarily messy and painful.

The first important step is to give time for both of you to heal after the breakdown of your relationship. My ex and I had our period of blocking each other on social platforms — not in a spiteful way, but just to allow ourselves to have some breathing space and not see each other’s content daily.

It’s important that you can both process and accept the end of what was, and that you both understand why it happened.

Definitely don’t try to force your ex into a friendship if they’re not entirely ready. Just because you two don’t immediately become ‘besties’ after the breakup, it doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. 

The next step to making a friendship with an ex work, is to make sure you’re both actually over each other. If the idea of them dating someone new fills you with dread… that’s a sign that there probably are still unresolved feelings there. You should authentically want that for each other.

The intention of the friendship is key here — if you’re staying friends but the real goal is to get them back, that’s just continuing a drama that neither party needs and will only hold you back from being able to move on.

If your connection no longer feels emotionally charged and you don’t feel attached to or dependent on one another, you’re now ready to establish new boundaries.

Changing how, as well as where, you and your ex interact will help to build a platonic friendship.

I would avoid meeting in a romantic setting — no late dinners at your old favourite restaurants or dimly-lit cocktail bars, at least at the very start. Instead, you could try a morning walk or coffee catch-ups in new locations.

The energy should feel similar to your other friendships, and you should both be able to live independent private lives.

Your friendship shouldn’t be identical to your former relationship – differences should be made in terms of how integrated your lives are and how much intimacy you share.

With all of that said, it’s also totally okay to decide that it’s too emotionally complicated to maintain a friendship with your ex. You can explain gently that you’d like to take some more time and space and that you wish them well.

Remember — even if you’re not actively staying friends per se, you should always remain kind when your paths inevitably cross. You don’t need to actively maintain a friendship to still be considerate towards each other.

The Ex Best Thing is screening now on TVNZ+.

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